MUST I eat carbs to gain muscle mass?

by (2401) Updated November 16, 2012 at 4:35 AM Created March 28, 2012 at 6:07 AM

I've been on a mass gain training cycle lately. I've also been enjoing VLC and eating basically only meat and greens for three months; My hunger is satisfied. Mood is great. Energy for my weightlifting is non stop diesel fuel. It's great! The only caveat is I'm not gaining mass!

My base calories are supposedly @2000-2200Cal. I'm eating three times a day 9-3-9, 3.0 grams protein / kilo body mass (about 180 grams/day), @200 grams fat/day, around 2500 cal/day in meat and fat only, plus an extra 200 or so calories from green non-starchy veggies. I take Mg, Ca, D, E, plus occasional liver.

My meat is lamb for breakfast, chicken breast or sashimi and coconut oil for lunch, and beef and veggies for dinner.....mostly raw meat btw.

I feel GREAT without carbs but I'm not gaining. This week I tried eating 50 grams carb from sweet potatoes post workout. I immediately felt flush in the face, headache,mood drop and anxiety, and overall aversion to it. I didnt enjoy eating them at all, def not carb addicted. I was hungry all day instead of my usual fat burning diesel cruise control feeling, and nearly fell asleep at work instead of being alert when carb free. This is with carbs being an ADDITIONAL 200 calories to the above.

I realize I've become carb intolerant and fat adapted. Perhaps over some weeks I could tolerate carbs better. But must I eat carbs to gain muscle mass? I've been a strong wiry hard gainer all my life no matter WHAT I've tried!


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5624 · March 28, 2012 at 3:04 PM

I used to compete in bodybuilding and even though I don't follow the 7-8 meals a day/low fat mantra, I still think that the growth hormone response you get from insulin is one of the most powerful muscle building tools you can use, IF used properly. Carbohydrates can definitely be anabolic. There is a reason why drug using bodybuilders risk there health by injecting themselves with insulin in the "off season", because it's effective. I'm not advocating or agreeing with this stupid decision AT ALL.....just making a point.

Simply, the definition of anabolic is "of or related to the synthetic phase of metabolism." The synthetic phase of metabolism that is referred to is protein synthesis, the process by which cells make new protein. Briefly, some signals for growth (hormones, nutrients, etc.) causes an increase in the rate at which new proteins are synthesized within the cell. When this process occurs on a large scale over time in skeletal muscle, it is referred to as skeletal muscle hypertrophy (growth). Therefore, in order for carbohydrates to be defined as anabolic, there must be conclusive evidence that carbohydrate ingestion increases skeletal muscle protein synthesis. There is a lot of research and evidence to support this hypothesis.

So when I say IF used properly, I am talking about mainly post workout. Using a protein + high carbohydrate meal post workout can be superior in terms of increasing protein synthesis, but it will also be superior for increasing glycogen replenishment, limiting protein breakdown, and enhancing recovery from exercise. All these things aid in muscle growth. The mistake people make, especially in bodybuilding, is they think the same will apply if they eat loads of carbohydrates throughout the day and every day. I don't believe this is necessary and in my opinion greats a constant glycogen load which decreases the positive effect of that post workout "window". Now there are some theories out there about cyclical carbohydrate intake for muscle growth, but the research is still fairly new and gets kind of complicated to explain.

60 · March 28, 2012 at 7:20 AM

2500 cals at what bodyweight? Don't know your bodyweight but that might not be enough for you to gain mass. Also, I wouldn't count the non starchy veggies as calories, they basically net you close to zero calories when all is said and done.

To gain muscle mass, in my experience, carbohydrates from decent starch sources are going to be crucial in replenishing muscle glycogen. Unless you have a good reason, decent carbohydrate sources are also a useful and benign way to add calories to your diet when looking to gain muscle mass. On your current diet plan it would be very difficult to see decent gains. I would say slowly add carbs back in. Bottom line: Don't fear the carbs

2401 · March 29, 2012 at 2:45 PM

Well, after carb loading PWO twice, I'm giving up and sticking with meat and fat for now. While I see the compelling arguements of carb PWO, and agree in theory, my body simply won't have it. Today was a rest day and I ate VLC as usual. I got dizzy, grumpy, lightheaded, and STARVING between usual meal times, which VLC had ELIMINATED! The carbs have upset my hunger signals again. I just got home and downed a raw beef smoothie I make in my commercial blender, with extra tallow, and I'm smiling my belly feels so happy! No muscle gain is worth feeling like crap. It's not like I'm trying to stop carbs....I don't want them. I crave meat! Thanks for all the great answers. For now my blood sugar gets too screwed up to eat carbs.

840 · March 28, 2012 at 5:04 PM

animaleater, I'm kind of in the same boat... VLC diet, feeling great and my lifting is improving but I can't seem to break 170 lbs (6'2")... I've been thin my whole life as well, and I would definitely put myself in the "hard gainer" category.

I use to eat more of PHD, but after cutting out all the starchy carbs (I still eat veggies) I've felt a lot better. Honestly I didn't gain any real muscle mass doing cabs PWO and cycling either, I just felt slow, sleepy and unfocused...

So, my thought is this... I eat the way that makes me feel the best (Diesel Fuel!), I don't restrict calories (eat until I'm full), lift heavy and make progress in strength. I figure at some point I'll inevitably gain mass as I get stronger, it just might take longer than I first thought.

4620 · March 28, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Yes, post workout, that is why strength training is best for diabetics, muscle growth loves carbs. Post carbs for gains. And if you are not an athlete, don't eat like one.

15070 · March 28, 2012 at 2:06 PM

You could try a different source of carbs. Sweet potatoes are high in oxalates, and could bother a person depending on other factors. I found myself consuming a lot of high oxalate foods like spinach, carrots, beets, and of course sweet potatoes, and have felt better since I reduced them.

Maybe try white rice or butternut squash?

Or you were feeling a blood sugar spike... boiling the sweet potatoes will cause less of a blood sugar spike, as will adding butter. I add lots and there's no real sugar spike.

1437 · March 28, 2012 at 8:16 AM

someone once told me it can take up to 5 months of hard work and consistent training for the mass to start building in your muscles so you're on the right track. if you feel good, you're doing well. remember there would've been a time for transition in the beginning, and now you're used to it your body might have had max two months of training. keep up the hard work. I say try all out for a total 6 months and if nothing has changed then maybe have a tinker?

5115 · March 28, 2012 at 7:26 AM

I don't know if we have anything categorical on this. I would say no, because it shouldn't be necessary. However if you're looking to gain for appearance then that falls outside the natural or evolutionary remit. Have you been gaining strength? It's possible that you're simply not pushing yourself hard enough to encourage significant gains, or allowing enough recovery (although it sounds like you're flush with energy so it's probably more likely the former). There's also room for significantly increasing the amount you're eating without necessarily going to carbs - it seems sensible to at least try that since you've no other reason to want to add carbs at this time.

I think it's been established that carbs aren't necessary post-workout (or any time really) for protein synthesis, the bigger issue is that without pumping up your glycogen stores you lose out on that 'bulk' (and the water that gets trapped with it) which makes your muscles appear smaller. There's talk of the necessary anabolic effect of eating, but then people go about fasting for the same purpose - driving up HGH. To be honest, I wouldn't trust any definite answers as I think it's an area that has been saturated by marketing. I'd see what else you could do first to necessitate and adaptation from your body. Then I'd consider what was most important to you. Then, maybe, see if you get better results with adding different carbs - if that's what you want.

2272 · November 16, 2012 at 4:35 AM

Try using some BCAA's!! Good to prevent muscle breakdown when taken before and after your workout. Lot's of sites about them if you google :)

"Branched chain amino acids also have a reputation for building muscle. Amino acids play a critical role in the muscular development of neonates"

2797 · March 28, 2012 at 2:04 PM

I've been VLC and making gains since Christmas. It was rough until I realized I needed about 16 grams of carbs prework (targeted ketogenic diet) or my energy levels would crash and burn after a few sets. I also lift heavy and keep the total number of sets low.

Are you sure you're not over training? You say "I've been a strong wiry hard gainer all my life no matter WHAT I've tried!" and then you say ", I'm at a plateau. I've trained Pavel Tsastouline style focusing on strength for years. Now I'm using his mass gaining routine....heavy weights, 5 reps, many sets, compressed rest periods, 3x week". It sounds like you may simply be training too much/too often.

6629 · March 28, 2012 at 1:28 PM

First, don't listen to anyone who tells you that you need to be in a calorie excess in order to gain muscle. IF this were true then it would mean that it is impossible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, which clearly is possible.

What is muscle? Protein+Glycogen+Fat+WATER. How many grams of protein does 1lb of muscle contain? 454 Grams right? Wrong. It contains between 30-45 grams of protein and that is all. The rest? Glycogen, Water and fat in varying amounts depending on the muscle/person/genetics/etc.

That being said, since you have been VLCing it, IF you glycogen load you will gain LBM guaranteed, and possibly 5-10lbs worth. No, you do not need to eat 45,000 calories worth of food to gain that. LOL.

For every gram of glycogen stored in your muscle its either 3 or 4 grams of water (i forget I just woke up) that are attached to it. This all adds up really fast to make 1lb (454 grams).

So, CAN YOU gain 5lbs of muscle by only consuming about 1lb of glucose/fructose/lactose/dextrose/maltose/etc? YES, YES you can. Regardless of what the supplement manufacturers would have you believe.

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